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Psalm 119:17-24

ג 17. Do good to thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word. ג 18. Open my eyes, and I shall see the marvelous things of thy law. ג 19. I am a stranger on the earth: do not conceal from me thy commandments. ג 20. My soul is rent with the desire it hath at all times unto thy judgments. ג 21. Thou hast destroyed the proud, they are accursed that wander from thy commandments. ג 22. Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies. ג 23. Princes also did sit, they spoke against me: thy servant meditated on thy statutes. ג 24. Also thy testimonies are my delights, the men of my counsel.

 

17. Do good to thy servant The term גמל gamal, which some render to requite, does not, among the Hebrews, import mutual recompense, but frequently signifies to confer a benefit, as in Psalm 116:7, and many other passages. Here it must be viewed as expressive of free favor. The words, however, may admit of two senses. They may be read as a separate clause, in this manner: O God! display thy goodness to thy servant, and thus I shall live, or then I shall esteem myself happy. Or the verse may form one connected statement: O God! grant to thy servant the favor that, while I live, I may keep thy commandments. If the former lection is adopted, then, by these words, the prophet declares that, without the favor of God, he is like a dead man; that though he might abound in every thing else, yet he could not subsist without feeling that God was propitious towards him. The latter interpretation is preferable, That the prophet asks as a principal favor, that, while he lives, he may devote himself entirely to God; being fully persuaded that the grand object of his existence consists in his exercising himself in his service, an object which he firmly resolves to pursue. For this reason these two clauses are connected together, that I may live, and keep thy word. “I desire no other mode of living than that of approving myself to be a true and faithful servant of God.” All wish God to grant them a prolongation of their life; a wish after which the whole world ardently aspire, and yet there is scarcely one among a hundred who reflects upon the purpose for which he ought to live. To withdraw us from cherishing such irrational propensities, the prophet here describes the main object of our existence. He declares it to be owing to the peculiar grace of the Holy Spirit, that any person keeps the law of God. Had he imagined that the preparing oneself for the observance of his law depended on his own free will, then this prayer would have been nothing else than downright hypocrisy.

Very similar is the doctrine contained in the next verse. Having acknowledged, that power to keep the law is imparted to men by God, he, at the same time, adds, that every man is blind, until he also enlighten the eyes of his understanding. Admitting that God gives light to us by his word, the prophet here means that we are blind amid the clearest light, until he remove the veil from our eyes. When he confesses that his eyes are veiled and shut, rendering him unable to discern the light of the heavenly doctrine, until God, by the invisible grace of his Spirit, open them, he speaks as if he were deploring his own blindness, and that of the whole human race. But, while God claims this power for himself, he tells us that the remedy is at hand, provided we do not, by trusting to our own wisdom, reject the gracious illumination offered to us. Let us learn, too, that we do not receive the illumination of the Spirit of God to make us contemn the external word, and take pleasure only in secret inspirations, like many fanatics, who do not regard themselves spiritual, except they reject the word of God, and substitute in its place their own wild speculations. Very different is the prophet’s aim, which is to inform us that our illumination is to enable us to discern the light of life, that God manifests by his word. He designates the doctrine of the law, marvelous things, 404404     Marvelous things “means things which are difficult and wonderful. The reference here is to the figures and adumbration’s of the law, which so veiled and concealed the substances to which they related, that the mass of readers quite lost sight of them. The Psalmist therefore prays for Divine illumination, to enable him to solve, at least in some decree, the enigmas in which future things were enveloped.” — Walford to humble us, to contemplate with admiration its height; and to convince us the more of our need of the grace of God, to comprehend the mysteries, which surpass our limited capacity. From which we infer, that not only the ten commandments are included in the term la but also the covenant of eternal salvation, with all its provisions, which God has made. And knowing, as we do, that Christ, “in whom are hid all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom,” “is the end of the law,” we need not be surprised at the prophet commending it, in consequence of the sublime mysteries which it contains, Colossians 2:3; Romans 10:4

19. I am a stranger on the earth. It is proper to inquire into the reason for his calling himself a sojourner and stranger in the world. The great concern of the unholy and worldly is to spend their life here easily and quietly; but those who know that they have their journey to pursue, and have their inheritance reserved for them in heaven, are not engrossed nor entangled with these perishable things, but aspire after that place to which they are invited. The meaning may be thus summed up: “Lord, since I must pass quickly through the earth, what will become of me if I am deprived of the doctrine of thy law?” We learn from these words from what point we must commence our journey, if we would go on our way cheerfully unto God.

Besides, God is said to conceal his commandments from those whose eyes he does not open, because, not being endued with spiritual vision, in seeing they see not, so that what is before their eyes is hid from them. And, to demonstrate that he does not present his request in a careless manner, the prophet adds, that his affection for the law is most intense; for it is no common ardor which is expressed by him in the following language, My soul is rent with the desire it hath at all times unto thy judgments. As the man who may concentrate all his thoughts on one point with such intensity as almost to deprive him of the power of perception, may be said to be the victim of his intemperate zeal, so the prophet declares the energy of his mind to be paralyzed and exhausted by his ardent love for the law. 405405     “Every intense exertion of mind has an influence, if it be long continued, to exhaust and impair the faculties in some degree. Such an effect is here alluded to; the close and assiduous attention which the Psalmist had paid, and the exertion of strong desire which he had exercised, produced the feeling which he here speaks of. He is also to be regarded as using the language of poetry, which admits of stronger colouring than prosaic description.” — Walford. The clause, at all times, is meant to express his perseverance; for it may occasionally happen that a man may apply himself with great ardor to the study of the heavenly doctrine; but it is only temporary-his zeal soon vanishes away. Steadfastness is therefore necessary, lest, through weariness, we become faint in our minds.

21. Thou hast destroyed the proud. Others render it:, Thou hast rebuked the proud; a translation of which the Hebrew term גער, gaar, admits when the letter ב, beth, is joined with it in construction; but this being awaiting, it is better to render it destroy 406406     “Maintenant veu qu’elle n’y est point adjoustee, le mot de Destruire y conviendra mieux.” — Fr. It makes, however, little difference to the main drift of the passage, there being no doubt that the intention of the prophet is, to inform us that God’s judgments instructed him to apply his mind to the study of the law; and certainly this is an exercise which we ought on no account to defer till God visit us with chastisement.. But when we behold him taking vengeance upon the wicked, and the despisers of his word, we must be stupid, indeed, if his rod do not teach us wisdom; and, doubtless, it is an instance of special kindness on God’s part, to spare us, and only to terrify us from afar, that he may bring us to himself without injuring or chastising us at all.

It is not without reason that he denominates all unbelievers proud, because it is true faith alone which humbles us, and all rebellion is the offspring of pride. From this we learn how profitable it is to consider carefully and attentively the judgments of God, by which he overthrows such haughtiness. When the weak in faith see the wicked rise in furious. opposition against God, arrogantly casting off all restraint, and holding all religion in derision with impunity, they begin to question whether there be a God who sits as judge in heaven. God may, for a time, wink at this: by-and-bye, we witness him setting forth some indication of his judgment, to convince us that he hath not in vain uttered threatening against the violators of his law; and we ought to bear in mind that all who depart from him are reprobate.

Let it be carefully observed that, by wandering from his commandments, is not meant all kinds of transgression indiscriminately, but that unbridled licentiousness which proceeds from impious contempt of God. It is, indeed, given as a general sentence, that

“every one is cursed who continueth not in all
things which are written,” Deuteronomy 27:26

But as God in his paternal kindness, bears with those who fail through infirmity of the flesh, so here we must understand these judgments to be expressly executed upon the wicked and reprobate; and their end, as Isaiah declares, is,

that the inhabitants of the earth may learn righteousness,”
(Isaiah 26:9)

22. Remove from me reproach This verse may admit of two senses: Let the children of God walk as circumspectly as it is possible for them to do, they will not escape being liable to many slanders, and therefore they have good reason to petition God to protect the unfeigned godliness which they practice against poisonous tongues. The following meaning may not inappropriately be given to the passage: O Lord, since I am conscious to myself, and thou art a witness of my unfeigned integrity, do not permit the unrighteous to sully my reputation, by laying unfounded accusations to my charge. But the meaning will be more complete if we read it as forming one continued sentence: O God, permit not the ungodly to mock me for endeavoring to keep thy law. For this impiety has been rampant in the world even from the beginning, that the sincerity of God’s worshippers has been matter of reproach and derision; even as, at this day, the same reproaches are still cast upon God’s children, as if not satisfied with the common mode of living, they aspired being wiser than others. That which was spoken by Isaiah must now be accomplished, “Behold I and my children, whom thou hast given me to be for a sign;” so that God’s children, with Christ their head, are, among the profane, as persons to be wondered at. Accordingly, Peter testifies that they charge us with madness for not following their ways, (1 Peter 4:4;) and as this reproach — the becoming the subjects of ridicule on account of their unfeigned affection for God’s law — tends to the dishonor of his name, the prophet very justly demands the suppression of all these taunts; and Isaiah also, by his own example, directs us to flee to this refuge, because, although the wicked may arrogantly pour out their blasphemies on the earth, yet God sitteth in heaven as our judge.

In the following verse, he states more plainly that it was not in vain he besought God to vindicate him from such calumnies; for he was held in derision, not only by the common people, and by the most abandoned of mankind, but also by the chief men, who sat as judges. The term, to sit, imports that they had spoken injuriously and unjustly of him, not merely in their houses and at their tables, but publicly and on the very judgment-seat, where it behooved them to execute justice, and render to every one his due. The particle גם, gam, which he employs, and which signifies also or even, contains an implied contrast between the secret whisperings of the common people, and the imperious decisions of these imperious men, enhancing still more the baseness of their conduct. Nevertheless, in the midst of all this he steadfastly persevered in following after godliness. Satan was assailing him with this device in order to drive him to despair, but he tells us that he sought a remedy from it in meditation on the law of God. We are here taught, that it is not unusual for earthly judges to oppress God’s servants, and make a mock of their piety. If David could not escape this reproach, why should we, in these times, expect to do so? Let us further learn, that there is nothing more perverse than to place dependence upon the judgments of men, because, in doing so, we must, of necessity, constantly be in a state of vacillation. Let us therefore rest satisfied with the approbation of God, though men causelessly defame us — not only men of low degree, but also the very judges themselves, from whom the utmost impartiality might be expected.

24. Also thy testimonies are my delight The particle גם, gam, connects this with the preceding verse. To adhere unflinchingly to our purpose, when the world takes up an unjust opinion of us, and, at the same time, constantly to mediate on God’s law, is an example of Christian fortitude seldom to be met with. The prophet now informs us how he overcame this temptation. Thy testimonies, says he, are my delight: “Although the cruel injustice of men, in charging me falsely, grieves and annoys me, yet the pleasurable delight which I take in thy law is a sufficient recompense for it all.” He adds, that God’s testimonies are his counselors, by which we are to understand he did not rely on his own judgment simply, but took counsel from the word of God. This point ought to be carefully considered, inasmuch as we see how blind affection predominates in directing the lives of men. Whence does the avaricious man ask council, but from the erroneous principle which he has assumed, that riches are superior to every thing? Why does the ambitious man aspire after nothing so much as power, but because he regards nothing equal to the holding of honorable rank in the world? It is not surprising, therefore, that men are so grievously misled, seeing they give themselves up to the direction of such evil counselors. Guided by the word of God, and prudently yielding obedience to its dictates, there will then be no inlet to the deceits of our flesh, and to the delusions of the world, and we will stand invincible against all the assaults of temptation.


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